Monthly Archives: October 2008

Scottish Oatcakes

I first tried Scottish oatcakes while traveling in Scotland. A friend and I were driving across country (for those of you who have read my book, Waltzing Australia, I was traveling with Jo, who I met in Western Australia a few years earlier), and we had stopped at a dairy that specializes in goat-milk products. The goat cheese was served with oatcakes, and I instantly became addicted (must be in my blood). Oatcakes have a wonderful, nutty, wholesome taste. They go fabulously well with cheese, but they are also great with a bit of honey. Actually, oatcakes excel in supporting roles. They also make good breakfast substitutes—oatmeal on the go.

As is true of most of the world’s simple flatbreads, oatcakes represent a tradition that stretches back millennia. These would be as easily prepared at a primitive fireplace, simply slapped on heated rocks, as they are in today’s kitchens.

Oatcakes are generally rolled into 6-inch to 8-inch circles and then cut into fourths. The Scottish name for the round oatcake is bannock, while the sections into which the bannock is divided are farls. (Farl comes from the term fardel, which means “a fourth part,” though now the term farl refers only to quarters of oatcakes or shortbread.) They would originally have been made on a hot griddle over an open fire, but they translate well to an indoor griddle or heavy frying pan, and can also be baked in the oven (my preferred method, because they don’t have to be tended). They are remarkably easy to make and very wholesome. Enjoy. Continue reading

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Feeling Your Oats

Young Oats

Young Oats

Sowing your wild rice. Feeling your millet. Hmmm. Things are just not the same without oats, are they? Actually, in recent generations, oats have enjoyed a better reputation than they have occasionally had in the past. Now that it has been discovered that oats are good for you, with abundant soluble and insoluble fiber, they are practically revered. It was not always so.

For many centuries, oats were deemed fit only for animals and barbarians. While Rome was still an empire, Pliny wrote contemptuously of oats, which were favored by the Germanic tribes. It was believed that such rough food must produce a rough character (oats are rough, barbarians are rough, there must be a connection). Paracelsus wrote that oatcakes, as well as cheese and milk, would contribute to having a disposition that lacked subtlety—i.e., you’re not quite civilized if you consume these things. In his great Dictionary of the English Language (1755), Samuel Johnson took a swipe at England’s northern neighbors, describing oats as “a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” So the bias against the grain seems to have continued to be based in contempt for people that were somewhat less refined. Continue reading

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